Monday, May 19, 2008

Tuesdays With Sorry

Dear Children:

This blog has been way too much fun. Even though some of our more waggish readers have dubbed the submissions “Poor Poppy’s Almanac”, it’s been fun. Now, as I’m confident that we’ll really get to 160lbs, it looks like the character (if not the content) of the diary will have to change. When I do get to the magic One Six Oh, I’ll be sure to crow loud and long. No one will miss that event if shameless self-promotion still works. It will be a great day if for no other reason than the decibel level of the personally blown horn.

Just so you know, the 170lbs weigh-in occurred last Tuesday. I always weigh the least on Tuesdays. Go figure. Saturday I weighed in at 170.5.

So, as we cast about for a compelling conceit for the blog, some themes come to mind. They all have the charm of being sufficiently self-absorbed to keep me on task, but lack a high-minded way of enlisting the wider world to a noble goal. After all, obesity is quite a toney subject these days and matches the drumbeat of every do-gooder in sight. Fat is bad. Lean is good. Health is splendid. Dissipation is flagrant. Discipline is laudable. Negligence is willful.

There is one thing we all share. Not everyone can scratch that common itch, but because we all have it, there may be a way of spinning some themes it suggests. That impulse is art.

Think about it. You have heard people say that they wished they could play the piano or draw from life. Hordes show up at concerts to sop up the talent of others. We buy CDs, movies and pictures. We read for the delight of it. Which of us hasn’t craved a talent or a unique ability. It truly is universal to create yet we sell ourselves short with the pretext that we were not blessed with a gift that is valued.

Therefore, if we accept the idea that a creation urge is universal, we are obliged to gratify that urge. We need not be concerned for whether the product is valued. Who cares if you have the urge to sing and the song you choose isn’t fashionable. You have done your job, a job for which God has fitted you. We make far too little of longings and far too much of praise.

I love houseplants and I love to plant them in unusual containers. Terrariums are a particular favorite. I love the feel of wood and the shapes it can take. So far, there has not been a path beaten to my door for the want of the objects that result, but the satisfaction in their creation has been uplifting.

Maybe I can share some of the stirrings of satisfaction with you. While there is no wish for you to replicate or admire my work, there might be a way for you to replicate the joy I feel as you are encouraged to create for yourself.

On the Ipod Saturday was The Jordonairs, a Gospel group. It features an anchoring bass by the name of J. D. Salman. He’s dead now, but I bet you’ve heard his voice. Elvis Presley on the most popular Gospel album of all time records him. Elvis used a back up group called The Stamps. And, as luck would have it, I met a classmate from nearly five decades ago who knew JD and sang on the same stage. I’m looking forward to learning more about the history of Gospel music from him.

Much Love,


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Within A Stone's Throw

Dear Children:

The previous post – the one called John Phillip Snooza – has generated a lot of comment outside the blog. Mostly people are exploring the difference between quality decision-making and the idea of virtue. Let me explain:

We don’t talk much about virtue these days. The expression of a virtue, say thrift, lends itself to belittling, silly logical extensions and cliché. We don’t talk about thrift because it’s easy to substitute the word cheap. We don’t talk about industry for fear of being thought a plugger. Chastity has become another word for prudish. Humility is short for wimpy. Only suckers are charitable. You get the idea.

What we have these days are core values. Each of us has a set of core values. My core values are just as genuine and justifiable as yours. Your core values, in turn, may be wildly different from each of your acquaintances. It’s bad form to question anyone’s right to his or her core values. That’s the difference between virtues and core values. Virtues are shared definable ideals and core values are individual and needn’t be expressed.

This is the point at which persons of an older certain age begin to sigh and those of a younger certain age shrug. I don’t care.

Decisions, the helpful kind and the destructive kind, issue from bedrock belief. You can be confident that a person who treats you shabbily is likely to treat others the same. Expressions of generosity are almost never a hit-or-miss proposition. Caution is hardly accidental. Intemperance is predictable.

Ask yourself: when it comes to things that count, what counts with you? We all have beliefs even if we don’t want them. We cannot hold beliefs secretly because decisions reflect beliefs clearly and consistently.

Oh, on the off chance you were wondering about people who appear inconsistent, don’t be fooled. Those are people who believe in moral plasticity. If you see one, make the sharpest turn possible and run for your life.

It’s also time to report on weight loss. This morning I weighed 170 lbs. That’s thirty pounds since the first week in February and the lightest I’ve been since Lent 1984. We may be within striking distance of the 160 lbs goal.

The next post will discuss what will happen should I ever get to One Sixty as well as other stuff I’ve been pursuing lately. See the picture clue.

Much Love,


Sunday, April 27, 2008

John Phillip Snooza

Dear Children:

There is a shiny new dime right here that says you have the same idea I once had about sleep. You believe that functionality is the most important issue in your intellectual, social and athletic life. How you happen to feel at the moment can wait for another day. So long as you are on a par with the smartest in the room or can compete with the swiftest or the most admired all will be well. There’s plenty of time for sleep in your old age that hobbles in about age 29 or so.

Do not believe it. You need sleep in sufficient amounts not only for the moment’s functionality but also for next week, next year or next decade. There is ample evidence that people of any age benefit from sleep in many ways. Memory improves. Crankiness diminishes. Lung, muscle and vascular utility rises. Incidence of depression, bipolar disorder and paranoia among other horrid mental problems lessens. Skin tone brightens. Sniffles and colds are less brutal. Injuries heal faster. Scars fade. The list goes on and on.

There is a larger principle at work here. The principle holds that what you do or don’t do right now plays out forever. There are health consequences, of course. That gratuitous Mars Bar attached to your thigh can outlive a tortoise. I'm living proof. That’s just one example.

Consider this: Deciding to blow off school today can be a loss or a gain. Who knows? What is certain is that decisions are not discreet events. Decisions, like sleep, have long-term implications. One decision always informs the decisions that follow.

Just as an exercise, map out a decision tree. Start anywhere; say deciding to take a tumbling class instead of a dance class. Where does that decision lead? What branches are created? How far do the repercussions extend? Are there branches on the branches and do those branches have branches. Its not really possible is it?

Now don’t get all bewildered. Don’t let the endlessness of a decision’s results get in the way of anything. Not deciding is a decision too and has a different set of branches on branches. While you can’t know how your life will play out, you can know where the decision you made came from. Some decisions come from our hearts, others come from our intellects and still others are made for us.

The worst decisions are made of base and fleeting stuff. I was angry. I was in a hurry. It was spite. I followed a leader. The sun was out. The moon was full.

Please note: They’re not wrong decisions, they’re under-funded.

Excellent decisions issue from the knowledge that we live complicated lives with other people who make decisions that act on us just as our decisions act on them.

Excellent decision-making also makes it easier to own up to mistakes. We all do things for reasons that turn out bogus. Okay, that thing was bogus. I was wrong. What is the right thing to do now?

Maybe we’ll sleep better.

On the iPod today were Sousa marches. It made me think of a favorite pastime, that of parades. I like the kids in the Radio Fliers, of course as well as the politicians and the Cause Floats. What I like best, though, are the marching bands.

A marching band is a profoundly old-timey thing. Our age doesn’t provide for submitting to uniformity in dress and step. Each of us is celebrated as an individual gemstone worthy of praise for that fact alone. No problem.

Still, for me it’s a joy to see kids synchronizing, harmonizing, coordinating, orchestrating, matching; making a unit pleasing to both eye and ear.

Much Love,


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On Being Certifiable

Dear Children:

Consider, please, the following official document. See if you aren’t so proud you could just bust.

KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS that the Board of Regents, Trustees, Faculty and staff of the Fitness Institute of Cosmic Totem certify and affirm that _____Poppy_________, has completed the initial, interim, tentative stage one goal of his fitness program by shear application of effort and perseverance and contrary to popular belief by losing __Ten Percent______ of his body weight.

WHEREAS he/she has reached the aforementioned goal three times within the previous four years, this certificate is granted provisionally for ___Six_______ months from the date first herein written after which time should the losses be maintained the certification shall be made permanent and

WHEREAS the certificant has pledged to lose an additional ____Ten Percent_____ of his present body weight within the provisional period and

WHEREAS the certificant has pledged to continue during the provisional period to eat within the limits of her/his approved diet, continue with the recommended cardiovascular and strength training program,

IT IS THEREFORE recommended that all persons of clean health and upstanding moral suasion plant upon the certificant a kiss about his mouth, cheek and neck in recognition of his/her achievement.

Attest: __Summa Phlunkie, DMetSci.____

And they said it couldn’t be done.

Much Love,


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Here Kitty Kitty

Dear Children:

Try to picture this little problem. You’re watching the beats-per-minute (BPM) readout on the treadmill. You have five minutes for the BPM to go from 120 to 99. It’s the cool-down period after one hour of training at a deliberate 120 BPM. You want the sensor to get to 99 and stay there for at least a minute. You want that more than anything because it will mean your interim heart recovery goal shall has been met.

The sensor quickly recedes from 120 to 105. There is a chance you’ll make it this time. Then, everything slows. One agonizing second after another agonizing second teases toward the goal. You get to 100 and the wretched thing bounces back to 104. This happens several times. The five-minute period expires. You’ll need to wait for tomorrow.

The next day comes as does the next day. A week passes and the heart rate goal eludes.

I’m beginning to believe that the fraught hope of that one lousy fewer beat per minute precludes its apprehension. In other words, I have to contemplate the idea that the act of staring at the display and wanting it to move in the right direction may produce enough anxiety to prevent the achievement of the goal.

Some scientists, particularly particle physicists and sociologists have contemplated the problem of how an observer to a phenomenon can change or affect the natural occurrence or the measurement of that phenomenon simply by observing it. It’s sometimes called the Copenhagen Effect or Heisenberg’s Uncertainty. It postulates that in order to properly observe the behavior of a single particle, allowances must be made for the behavior of other particles in the atom that would, by rights and in it its turn, effect the behavior of the observed particle.

This problem has led to a thought problem called 'Schrodinger's Cat' named after the man who posed this particular set-up. Suppose there is cat shut up in a box. With the cat is a switch made of a particular particle that, as it decays, promises a 50-50 chance it will kill the cat. The same chance guarantees the cat will be unaffected by the decay of this particle 50% of the time.

After the decay of the particle, our observer is invited to open the box and check on the condition of the cat. The result is unremarkable. The cat is either dead or the cat is alive. A certain reality is established. The next time the outcome could be different and certainly will be in half the observations. The problem, as you’ve already imagined, is not about the open box but the closed one. Before the box is opened, is the cat dead or alive?

The answer, of course is, neither dead nor alive. The answer, if you are prepared to believe it, is that the cat is both dead and alive. That’s the case, at least, within the priesthood of particle physicists.

Here among the mere laity, we are required to live inside a perceptible realty and act on that realty. When we don’t, we engage in wishful thinking, a mechanism that tries to alter perceptible realty. Think about it. We do it all the time.

Wishful thinking is one of the most dangerous things we can do to ourselves. We want a realty that is not. We wish that realty were not imposed on us. It is frustrating and crazy making to wish for a realty that cannot be. It is a source of anxiety that prevents healthy management of healthy ambitions within realty.

There will come a time when you and I will talk about perception of perceptible realty. In the meantime, it is important for you to accept that there is such a thing as realty. For now, here’s a hint: Realty is honorable.

I didn’t reach 99 because 99 just isn’t real for me right now. My staring, my wanting; my wish did not affect the sensors. I could be the calmest, least self-conscious man on the globe (which I am not) and still not reach 99 until the time comes.

Much Love,


Friday, April 11, 2008

Hearts And Showers

Dear Children:

Some of you have said, “Thanks a lot Poppy for all the wonderful insights you’ve been sharing with us lately. Fascinating as those musings may be, it’s sometimes difficult to parse what you find clever from your fixation with fatness. Please Poppy, tell us how you’re doing with your health goals.”

All right. All right. But you must promise – better yet, pinky swear – that the following dull recitation won’t keep you from a readiness for questions larger than my OCD. After all, the larger questions are nothing less than the same questions that have beset us from the time fire inspired story telling. We mustn’t quit now. Assuming I get the pinky swear I’ll let you in on a secret. Sure you got your burning bush and your tablet etching on the mountaintop, but for most of us access to afflatus is in the pondering of these matters together.

Aside from belt size, the most important thing to me has been a freakish heart rate. Walking around beats per minute was about 105, way too high. Resting heart rate was in the middle nineties. For the past months I’ve trained on a cardiovascular machine tuned to maintain a heart rate of 120, which is just south of 80% of the target heart rate for a man my age. The idea is to lose enough weight so that my heart doesn’t have to beat so fast to get blood surging around a frame for which it was not designed as well as strengthen it and make it more economical. I was on blood pressure meds too. Uncontrolled, my blood pressure was around 150 0ver 100. The problem lay in how to measure progress required by obsessives.

Of course, if my resting heart rate lowered, that would be ideal. And, I wanted to improve the recovery time after exercise. That too was a problem because it took forever to get the heart rate down. If I took care of those two things, I figured I’d be some distance toward cardiovascular health.

The progress report is good. My resting heart is now in the upper sixties, down thirty beats per minute or so. I’d like to get it into the fifties. Recovery time has improved as well.

Heart rate is closely monitored on the treadmill as well as after a shower. I take my blood pressure after showering also. So, there are two measures of recovery. The first is the five-minute cool-down period after an hour on the treadmill. In that measure, my heart rate goes down from 120 beats per minute to whatever it is five minutes later. Three months ago, it would go down ten beats or so. Now it goes down twenty beats or so. It has never gotten to ninety-nine. My ambition for now is for beats to get into the lower nineties.

The after shower schedule has it’s problems. A workout will lower most people’s blood pressure. Still, that number is headed the right direction. Typically, blood pressure would be, say 135 over 85. Today, that number was 92 over 62. That’s toward the bottom of the normal scale. It’s past my bedtime at this moment: blood pressure stands at 136 over 79, higher on the normal scale for the upper number and about right on the lower number. I stopped taking the meds.

After a shower, most people’s hearts run a little faster. I don’t know why. By that time, however, my heart rate has slowed to around 85. That is down 20 points from a just a few weeks ago when 105 was not unusual. I may be able to do better.

Is that informative enough for ye?

I can’t get Mozart’s 24th Piano Concerto out of my mind. I listened to it twice today. There’s something spooky, primal and deeply appealing that is holding fast. Mozart is always the smartest one in the room. It feels like he is also the one up to the most mischief. Why is that comforting?

Much Love,


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My Statin Doll

Dear Children:

As a gimlet-eyed college student, I took employment at a funeral home. The charm of the job was that it came with an apartment. To be sure, there was also a roommate. He and I did whatever was beneath the dignity of the funeral director including sweeping up, driving the hearse and ushering at funerals.

Of course, the real reason for the upstairs apartment was answering ambulance calls in the middle of the night. Yup: This was a time before licensed EMTs, $900 trips to the hospital and lawsuits over every little thing. Two 19-year-olds would visit the scene of a car crash, cart off gunshot victims, lash down loonies destined for the psych ward, haul baleful women in their 38th week of pregnancy, wait outside domestic disturbance residences to see which spouse was the bloodiest and lots of other fun and pukey tricks of the trade.

In that town was also a thing we don’t see anymore, an elected coroner. Funeral directors took gentlemanly turns running unopposed for the office as parcel to their civic duty thereby achieving an equitable division of such labor and stiffs paid for by the county.

Coroners kept for their own purposes personal copies of the death certificates they were obliged to sign. There were resident such certificates that dated way, way back and included magisterial documents attested to by previous owners of the funeral home and, by extension, sometime coroners. It was the Cause of Death blank that interested me most. “Ran off road, hit tree” will tell you the quality of insight required at that time and place. There was no shortage of “natural causes”, “old age”, failure to thrive” and, my all-time favorite, “death by misadventure”.

Death by misadventure is a euphemism we should bring back. It simply means that the croakee was in that predicament as a consequence of his own actions. If he was found smeared along the railroad tracks and there was detected the smell of alcohol, it didn’t take much medical learning to know that the wretch had done this thing without benefit of counsel. His demise was a calamity that had befallen a fool who paid a fool’s price.

We heard a speaker just last Friday describe, in part, why statin drugs prescribed for high cholesterol is a 30 billion dollar business. The first 20% is legit. That’s $6 billion. There rest is humbug. An unholy fraction of users derive no benefit whatsoever both because cholesterol is not the bogeyman we thought and because the drug doesn’t lower cholesterol. Statins actually harm another significant fraction. But what to put on the death certificate? Try this: Notwithstanding our best efforts that included ample BS and liberal doses of expensive snake oil, the patient died anyway ... death by misadventure.

But get the not-so-subtle shift. This time the system killed him. Blame big tobacco, fast food, smog, the gun culture, soul-sucking ghetto life, availability of crack, TV trays, TV dinners, TV, broken homes, crumbling schools, pharmaceutical houses, too few jails, too many jails, sugary cereal, red meat, ersatz popcorn butter, corporate agriculture, organized religion, secularism, lenient courts, activist judges, you get the idea.

There are plenty of things that need fixing. Lets fix them, you and me. There is nothing so pathetic as a peace activist who has a peace garden in her back yard. That is a vain and hopeless enterprise. If you’re for peace, get in the way of the bullets. If you’re for release of the captives, give one a job. If you see a hungry person, you can be certain that a bagel will do better work than a platitude. Better yet, if all you have to offer is an empty gesture, own up to it now. You’ll feel better. It costs your life either way.

There is no such thing as a person who by virtue of his lack of virtue gets himself squashed by a train. There is also no such thing as a killer movie popcorn conglomerate. People get themselves into trouble. People make and buy things they oughtn’t. People make mistakes. People are also the lever by which wrongs are righted.

Come to think of it, of the precious few important things over which we have complete control, to act or not act is one.

Much Love,


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Mythtaken For Time

Dear Children:

Blurting it out may be best: I only lost two pounds in the last two weeks. In about 180 weeks, I’ll be back to my original weight of 6lbs, 10oz. That really isn’t so horrifying a fact if it weren’t for an unspecified fact behind the fact behind the fact.

There’s this friend that says I’m too focused on weight and that weight is a stand-in for something I don’t want to reveal. So, the way this guy postulates it, I keep the conversation pointed to weight instead of the more solemn issues in my life. Fair enough … maybe. Let’s see.

Its true I wouldn’t care what the scale said if the mirror said something more gratifying. It’s also true that I shouldn't care about either the scale or the mirror if I weren’t in fear for my life. That’s why I quit smoking. I didn’t want to die an early, grisly, painful, expensive, hacking death. Still, I may not care about dying so much if I felt better about circumstances in general. There is so much unfinished business. There is so much to resolve. There are too many injuries to heal both of the afflicted sort and the afflictive sort. There is so much art and love and sorrow and mourning to express. Where will the time come from?

Maybe it’s more complicated than that. Time may be a stand-in for a substitute for a surrogate for a proxy. Who knows? What is it?

That’s the fact I’m getting at: the one behind the fact behind the fact.

But I do like the idea of time a lot. For now, though, time is a commodity. All the great scriptures teach otherwise of course. God is The Potentate of Time and will one day abolish it in favor of a stress free eternity. We just flat needn’t worry about time and, without that worry, what is there to worry about.

For us, in this life, time is truly a commodity and there are no shortages of things to worry over. As such, time can be wasted, spent, juggled and ignored. The only thing we cannot do is preserve time. There is no bank that will take it into deposit and promise an increase. Neither can we barter, legate, bailment nor will it over to another generation. It is our commodity for our personal use and not valid in transfer.

Never put off for tomorrow those things you have no intention of doing at all.

I’m just spit balling here, but if time is proxy for fitness I got me all the time in the world. It’s a beautiful thought. Lets try it on for size anyway.

The ipod has been playing Jelly Roll Morton. They called him Jelly Roll for a reason other than the fact that his momma named him Ferdinand. In any case, The Jelly Roll Blues is thought to be the first jazz music ever published. He may not have been the father for there were many parents but he attended the birth of jazz. Over the last ninety years or so, the songs have not lost their freshness, their energy or their grit. We call them songs even though the lyrics were severely subordinated to the music and the scoring. I love them all although there is one particular favorite called Hyena Stomp where the lyrics consist exclusively of the most wonderful full-throated, head back belly laughter.

Much Love,


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Government Intelligence Makes Exact Estimate

Dear Children:

After having lived a while, most people learn to hold and accept opposing ideas in their heads at the same time. It’s not a skill, really. It’s more like a coping mechanism. There are way too many perfectly acceptable opposing ideas abroad in the land.

White light’s constituency is millions of colors. Make an untidy mess with more than three crayolas. Pay attention in school and you will learn valuable information. Pay that attention; you’re likely to miss valuable information in a text message about that skank of a chem partner. God is all-powerful but couldn’t be bothered to get the cutest nose on the most deserving adolescent. Bullies never get anything except all the lunch money. There are teachers who don’t like kids.

There are even terms like oxymoron, incongruity, conundrum, paradox, anomaly, SIDS, collateral damage and others that put a name to facelessness. Kids with little power and strong convictions like you know whereof I speak even though we don’t use such words in our everyday speech.

But then, as I said, we learn to embrace situations that are paradoxical and oxymoronic. There is nothing to be done about it. You may have to be of a certain age to find aptness in an idea like bittersweet. Baptisms, weddings, graduations, anniversaries and funerals conflate tearful, consequential, eloquent, humdrum, hilarious and frightening sensations into the proceedings. It’s a way to cope.

As I was working the elliptical trainer today and the local classical station was presenting a dissonant rondo for broken cello and neglected piano, my mind wandered to the presentation we heard last Thursday. It was Mozart’s 24th Piano Concerto in C Minor.

What I know about musical literature will fit in your eye. Nevertheless, in this piece Mozart was up to something -- something both impish and brilliant. The piano, the oboe and the bassoon wage a weighty squabble. To be sure the flute, the strings, timpani and horns offer up colorful insights, but this argument – the conundrum under consideration -- was one of parts and paradoxes. I don’t have the foggiest what all the fuss was about. I trust it was more important than, say, a bar bet. Yet, we’ll hasten to add, it was deeply satisfying.

We were all coping quite nicely, thank you.

Much Love,


Monday, March 31, 2008

It’s The Fall, Not The Sudden Stop

Dear Children:

Most of you have met military people. They’re just like us with one important difference: they have a heightened sense of existential dismay. They know how random, how fragile, how inane military operations can be. They are asked to do things with purposes larger than their own selves and families and risk their skins for low pay into the bargain.

These facts form the hypothesis of war from ancient times. Soldiers do the prince’s bidding at the prince’s caprice.

No wonder one finds among our military friends a special brand of gallows humor. They speak of life’s slender thread in terms that stress the chances of survival as hit and miss at best.

I overheard a conversation between one clueless civilian and an active duty airborne officer over a question of the mortality of parachutes. The question was, “Say you jump out of an airplane at 20 thousand feet … both the primary and secondary ‘chutes don’t open. How long do you have to live?” The officer impressed me. His riposte: “You have the rest of your life.”

Truth like that does not come in flavors. Life may be a feeble commodity but it is all around us. While death is certain, it can’t contest life in terms of quantity. Compare one moment of death against a multi-googolplex of life moments. If that weren’t enough, each moment of life is pregnant with the next moment of life; something even the confidence of death cannot match.

Each of us has the rest of our lives to live out. We may not know the term of years but we do know that life fills and feeds us, irks and rips at us; life urges and claims us. It’s the best argument I can think of to do life right and well.

It’s also a reason to live healthy and strong.

These thoughts occurred to me on the treadmill Saturday as I was listening to The Blind Boys of Alabama; Higher Ground. It is such a marvelous recording that I didn’t know I was moved until the tears were landing on the belt. You may remember this group as the one that sang the lyrics of Amazing Grace to the tune of House of the Rising Sun. Amazing Grace is so familiar both as a Baptist anthem and as piped for funerals of fallen firefighters. In the Blind Boys reformulation, the lyrics are reborn as the hope John Newton clutched so fervently trying to clear his soul’s stain. He clung to the claim that only Grace could relieve his personal participation in the slave trade. Grace is a life experience.

In the instant album, they do a heart-wrenching call and response version of Precious Lord. This is Thomas A. Dorsey’s struggle late in his life. Dorsey knows it’s late. He asks for a hand to pay out his terminal moments on his feet and alive.

Much Love,


Monday, March 24, 2008

The Deadly Number Three

Dear Children:

This last week was quite remarkable and, in many ways, agreeable. Last week gave me an opportunity to try some experiments. Never mind why the time was right for these experiments. Suffice to say that the stars figured to align, you know, the way stars align and then got aligned in that star-aligning thing they do.

The first experiment sounds a little stupid. Check that. The first experiment was a lot stupid. Someone once said that the way to find out what weight is or how much weight you lost can be easily demonstrated at the Wal-Mart. So I decided to try it. Wal-Mart doesn’t package their dumbbells. One can pick up a dumbbell and walk around with it, feels its heft and get a feel for its effect. The idea is to first determine how much weight you mean to lose – say twenty pounds – go to Wal-Mart and pick up two ten pound dumbbells. That’s one in each hand. Then walk around and do your usual shopping for an hour or so with these dumbbells held tightly in your fists.

The effect is not to demonstrate what its like to lug twenty pounds. Rather, the effect is to simulate the stress that extra weight has on your body. The effect is striking and, I’ll wager, undoable by most of us obeasts. If you had forty pounds to lose, you wouldn’t get to the fishing aisle from the weight lifting aisle.

You will soon appreciate that losing twenty pounds is a significant undertaking. There’s no way it can be easy. The effort will be substantial and probably frustrating.

The flip side is that you will soon learn that losing that twenty pounds is likely to contribute substantially to your well-being. There will be that much less stress on your heart, your circulatory system, your joints, your back and your lungs.

I was the moron – excuse me: educably mentally retarded -- who walked around Wal-Mart for and hour with 15 pounds dangling from each arm. Aside from the arm pain that I discounted because we usually carry our weight on our bellies and legs, I was winded, full-body achy and barely able to return the dumbbells to their shelf. It was quite an experience – one that I recommend for anyone who wants to guess what the cost of obesity can be. To be rid of those thirty pounds became, for sixty minutes at least, an intense and profound wish.

Another experiment was made possible these last few days. On Friday I lost my moorings. There was no way I could seem to get enough food down me. The day proceeded well enough with healthful meals and the usual exercise regime. Then 6:00 pm stuck and I was ravenous. We’re talkin’ stupendous, breathtaking hunger that would not subside. Intellectual awareness was useless. The food shoveling didn’t quit ‘til the car transported me (not bad as flukes go) to the Culvers for a bacon double cheeseburger and a quart of vanilla custard.

The next morning I ordered the number three for breakfast. The number three begins with two fried eggs, hash browns, toast and your choice of breakfast meats. Obviously, I’d gone astray.

After breakfast I was all satiety and disgrace. And, upon cool reflection, realized that if I were to stay on the diet, I’d be obliged to forego food for a fortnight or two. Fortunately, I was granted another cool reflection. I would forego food for a day.

Strangely, it was not unpleasant. There were some moments of withdrawal symptoms, I admit. Out of caution, I monitored my blood pressure and resting heart rate often during the day and went to the gym as usual. The blood pressure readings and the resting heart rate actually went down. I didn’t check blood sugar until the 30-hour fast was over late Sunday afternoon. That was a mistake because I was nearing hypoglycemia. Diabetics shouldn’t do that.

The experiment was instructive, however. I hope I learned that I’m merely addicted to too much food, a condition that can be rectified with a lot less food. The problem has always been that I relapse from the small-meals ideal to the endless-meals atrocity.

Please note: There is nothing in my history to suggest that this knowledge will find its way into practice. One can hope. Is that so wrong?

I made the weigh-in by the way. I’m at 188lbs down 2lbs from last week.

On the treadmill I listened to the 25 or so Harry James Orchestra hits. Many of them featured Frank Sinatra as the boy singer. That and the two-pound loss made my day.

Much Love,


Monday, March 17, 2008

omg cto

Dr Chldrn:

2day i wade 190 tht mens i lst 2 in a wk

2 is gd aamof I wade tht mch a mo ago

wca bcoz im bck on trk i figr ok 4 an om

wmpl whn I saw th nbr becoz was xpcting

mayb 192 btw im sfete



Saturday, March 15, 2008

Erin Go Braugh or Freudian Slip? You Pick.

Dear Children:

Today we will discuss the matter of workout fashion. We see many chic women at gyms. Some of them even work up a sweat. We see many classy men many of whom sweat as a consequence of the stroll from the Escalade. We see those whose clothes are best described as ratty and those who go for punctilious. There is a significant fraction of gym-goers with snooty designer labels and those proudly displaying their preference for the latest Wal-Mart knockoff.

It makes not one whit of difference to your workout. Your outfit does not apprehend your health. Dress is for other matters altogether.

As a matter of fact, dressing can be seen to be in three general categories namely style, fashion and, my personal favorite, haphazard.

Style is that mode of dress calculated to sign on with an exclusive group. Spy someone wearing black lipstick, spiky hair and boots too heavy for stealth and you’ve got a batter for the Goth team. Enthusiasts of a certain persuasion wear tee shirts with exhortations on the relationship of conception to viable life. Gang tats, hats askew, metal-studded wristbands, ten-gallon hats and platform wedgies are sure signs of style and group ID.

Fashion, on the other hand, marks a person as an individual whose appearance is carefully arranged to fit one’s body, coloration and personal manner. A fashionable person wears duds worn by no one else. The fashionable cognoscenti shop in boutiques trafficking in one-of-a-kind items. Fashionable people get up in haute couture to vintage grunge so long as it can’t be found at Target.

The haphazard buy what they can and wear what they’ve got. Most have a general idea that stripes clash with plaid and red hats are grotesque. Trousers should have fewer than three and more than one leg. Sensible shirts button up the front and underwear has a mysterious purpose and is required in the event of a bus mishap. The haphazard trust haberdashers and refuse to understand that they work on commission.

JD Powers and Associates estimates that there are approximately one point seven stylish people and point zero zero three fashionable people per thousand adults. For anyone under the age of eighteen, multiply everything by 632.

Whether you are stylish, fashionable or haphazard is a matter of sublime indifference to me. You can be anything you want. You can look like anything you want. Please be aware, though, that what you wear and how you wear it actually makes a difference. So what if it’s wrong for people to make judgments about people based on their appearance? It’s too bad. It happens.

I know how tough it is for you. It’s hard to try on a new persona without the requisite duds. Maybe you want to see what it feels like to represent gansta rap creds. You’ll need the get up to match; the slouch pants, the baseball cap with the price tag screwed on cockeyed, the affected slouch and pimp roll in Air Jordans, the snarl, the victimhood and, just to complete the package, a syntax with that all-purpose article “yo”.

That stuff costs real money. The Airs alone will set you back two benjamins. I’m just saying: representing requires an investment. Make sure you’ve got the scratch. Walking that walk for a few hours strikes me as expensive at best.

Chasing the Paris Hilton mystique? Good luck with that.

All I want you to do is think about it, whatever it is. Make sure it’s worth the hassle.

Much Love,


Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Jigger Of Brimstone, Please. Hold The Fire.

Dear Children:

I’ve got four terrific Poppy Pounds posts in the works: Each one is more inspired than the next. These are deep writings worthy of an ancient scriptorium yet chock-a-block with sidesplitting humor and weighty insight.

They do lack a point, though. Writing really ought to have a point. Pointless prose on solemn topics is a skill I learned at the knee of my father. Dad was a Minister of The Gospel who never seemed to rally a reason for standing behind a pulpit. Unexamined, his sermons had a poetic mystery to them that most folks found uplifting just long enough to be permanently confounded.

It was an off-putting experience, as a teenager, to be charged with explicating a sermon that failed to tincture the ether upon pronouncement. It was only natural, I suppose, for “pew frogs” as I called them at the time, to think that I might have some notion of what lurked in the sluices and pleats of Papa’s breast. My adolescent head would bob or shake as the moment seemed to suggest, but I had no more idea about the theological payoff than did the earnest parishioners. By this time, as Grace would have it, his sermons were infrequent or outside my hearing. Nevertheless, the experience remains vivid and enduringly cheerless.

Before you get the idea that I have some contempt for preachers, I hasten to differ. A sermon is a burdensome thing. Church is important. Worship is important. Proclamation of The Gospel is important. As a matter of fact, in terms of the whole of the church experience, including Deaconate meetings, preaching is, at once, monumentally taxing and a single soul’s shared tenuous tether to the Almighty. It’s an awesome responsibility.

I’m just saying that my dad never seemed to find firm purchase on a reason for anyone to listen.

And, we have a reason why these posts have lost some of their urgency. I want there to be a point to it all. That’s what I’m searching for; grasping for … and, I’m willing to dangle a participle along the way to achieve it.

One more thing: I promised to tell you how I did on my trip. You’ll recall that traveling has always been an excuse to eat way too much and exercise way too little. I’m here to report a victory of sorts.

I did not gain any weight. I exercised (after a fashion) every day. I ate many rich and expensive meals. I got home weighing exactly the same.

I bet there’s a point to be found somewhere.

Much Love,


Friday, March 7, 2008

Anger Challengement

Dear Children:

Complex problems are the least likely problems resolved. We understand the issue intuitively. Problems resist solutions when they have both moral and legal dimensions or, worse yet, competing moral dimensions.

For instance, we are often faced with the opportunity to hit back when we are wronged. Hitting back is a deeply satisfying thing to do. We are wronged. We are angry. Repaying in kind is the first thing that pops into our minds. We hit back whether it is with words or fists or one of the sneakier forms of revenge. The fight usually escalates.

The fact is that we don’t intend to hurt someone else even if we start it. One of us was merely looking for some advantage in play or competition. The wronger had only the purest of motives and the wrongee had only the purest of cause for retaliation. After that, we lose the thread of the original issue and life gets complicated.

It is the unresolved simple problems that rapidly morph and metastasize into knotty, cancerous problems. Simple problems usually have simple solutions.

Oh boy. Here comes the hard part: We must think. We must think sooner. We must think creatively. We must think simply. We must think beyond the hot moment.

Don’t react until you have thought through these questions:

What is my part in this mess? Discount your action by the amount of culpability you share. Remember that you were present at the offense. Make sure you are truly aggrieved. Turnabout is usually fair play.

Is my response proportional? Nobody ever wins unless the punishment fits the crime. Don’t be the escalator. People, even people we don’t like, are often rational. Rational people recognize when responses are proportional.

What happens next? Reactions must contribute to solutions.

Can I handle the next step? It makes little sense to yank the chain of someone who will only yank back harder and more permanently. If you must take some bruises for your reaction, make sure those bruises point to a solution.

What lesson will be drawn from my reaction? Pure appeasement for the sake of delaying reckoning for another day seldom works. Another day will surely come and you’ll be obliged to start the process over. Make sure the other party is clear about your intentions.

Does my reaction hurt me more than her? If, for instance, you decide not to return to the playground because a rotten kid is there, you remain injured and angry. A small problem gets unresolved and complicated.

Have I considered forgiveness?

You ask: “Very interesting Poppy. What does this have to do with fitness?” Good question. The answer is “maybe everything”.

Many will tell you that they over eat or over vedge because of some offense in their childhood. One often hears that we eat to find love or acceptance. I know I smoked cigarettes for twenty years because it disappointed my father. Let’s see if I taught him a lesson.

My reaction was not proportional, I didn’t think it through, it sent the wrong message and it hurt me more than it hurt Dad. Nothing good was achieved. The offense went unrequited. No problems got solved. He died before we could solve the problem. Life got complicated.

Let’s acknowledge that our lifestyle may directly result of an emotional transgression on the part of someone else. If that is so let’s fix it.

Confront the perp. Break down complexity into bite-sized, simple problems. Settle on a sensible course of action that releases your anger. Move on.

There will be plenty of opportunity for you to unravel problems like this as life proceeds. Learn to do it well. If your reaction leaves you frustrated, you have chosen the wrong reaction. Go back, please. Keep going back. Experiment with what works for you. I promise there will be an abundance of slights, transgressions and outright crimes going forward. If you get enough practice finding solutions, you’ll be a stronger, happier person.

No ipod today. Last night I attended a concert where Freda Payne paid tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. The setting, the music and the company combined to make it a wonderful evening.

Much Love,


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Dear Children:

This week is a grave challenge. I’ll tell you why in a second.

But first, there’s the matter of the weekly weigh-in. Yesterday I weighed 192.0lbs. That’s 2.5lbs slimmer for the week and eight pounds lighter since the blog began four weeks ago. Quite sensibly and quite unusually that loss represents an average loss of two pounds per week. Of course, as we have discussed before, on average everyone has one ovary and one gonad, more or less. Two weeks ago, I reported a total loss of ten pounds. Just to overstate the case: I have lost 12.5lbs pounds and gained 4.5lbs over four weeks.

Last week also saw a bitter reminder about Chinese carryout food. There is nothing better than Chinese carryout. For someone watching his weight closely, though, water retention as a result of the sodium content of the food can add four pounds in the two days it took to finish the leftovers. As good as the Szechwan beef and broccoli was, the weight gain was too spooky. Besides, a man my age ought to be severely restricting salt anyway. It messes with blood pressure. Who needs that?

All that is by way of avoiding a tale about the challenge faced this week. I’m traveling.

Traveling, by itself is no threat to fitness to be sure. Away from home, I lose track of healthful small meals and exercise. What’s worse, travel is an excuse because both nasty fast food and super caloric white tablecloth meals are easy. Simple, small, nutritious meals away from home are difficult. Must we explain that statement? It is self-evident.

But, Poppy, you say, “Just order the salad. You can get the salad at McDonalds as well as Café l’Snob. Be sure to get the lo cal dressing.” Right!

What sort of person turns down the Pheasant Under Glass with Hummingbird Tongue Sauce in favor of grass, shoots and leaves? Don’t answer, “vegans”. They are .000000001 of the population and are tiresome at best. The rest of us are ordained to struggle.

Let me suggest a small change in travel food: Order anything you want. Eat a third of what comes on the plate. Eat half. Eat a lot less of it. My experience is that it is easier to train yourself to eat less than it is to train yourself to eat twigs and weeds. Maybe you’ll get a headache for the first couple of days. Take some aspirin.

Exercising out of town is sort of the same: Exercise when you can as much as you can. Today, I took a walk on the beach. It didn’t match my gym workout but it was exercise.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Much Love,


Monday, February 25, 2008

Heinous, Odious and Sucky

Dear Children:

The chance that this post will be, like, super boring and totally grotesque is for sure. See, the last few days have been, like way heinous, odious and sucky. I told you about the cold weather and the scandalous slow way my body reacted. In my entire life, I’ve never felt such a stupid, stupid feeling. So, I like ate a bunch of stuff for like, four whole days, didn’t even go to the gym or nothing. I just vegged and sat around.

Now I’m, like, super super fat and waddling everywhere and stuff. Whatever…

So, I finally got back to the gym today and (you know what?) I was up, like four and a half pounds from last week. How is that even possible, man? What does it even mean? I’ll tell you what it means: It means that I ate, like, a bajillion too many calories, right. Culvers makes this totally rad custard soft serve that is to die for. They’ve got vanilla and chocolate and loads of other flavors like peppermint swirl and stuff. You can also get it mixed up with candy bars that are crushed and such.

Don’t you dare say I’m starting over because I am not starting over. I am not starting over one little bit. It’s just a bump in the road of life and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Tomorrow is another day because yesterday’s gone. Yeah. Yesterday’s gone.

Besides, I was like bummed when I got to the gym and the ipod wasn’t putting out. I had to watch daytime TV on four plasma screens … we had ESPN, FOX News, The Price Is Right and CMT. It was nauseous, girl.

On ESPN was like endless Roger Clemens working out with some dork in his like humongous home gym. There was also a guy setting the forty-meter dash record, whatever that is. We saw that lots and lots. There were also tons and tons of Hooters commercials between tons and tons of shaving commercials. I’d like to hurl.

I had to read the crawl on FOX too. Get this … Hillary Clinton and Barack O’Bama are neck and neck. She’s the wife of the president in Washington and he’s this Arab guy from Kenyi, Hawaii. Why they want to neck on national television whizzes right by me. Geez.

The Price Is Right creeped me out. There were people on stage jumping and clapping or being sad because the price was right or the price wasn’t right. They should get a life or maybe a boyfriend or girlfriend or something.

Country Music Television got a laugh out of the old guy on the elliptical trainer next to me. He said Merle Haggard was finally aging into his name. Funny, I think. Anyway, he had me guess what the song was about when I could only see the video. In the whole hour I never guessed right once. I remember a girl dancing in prison, it was raining in this dude’s house and a total bottle blonde couldn’t stop crying. She had to stop, though because she was so, like, totally broken up. The old guy said she was crying because the dude in the beard puked his beer.

What’s so hard about getting MTV or VH1 anyway? Maybe they just get basic cable. That is so 20th century, I’m thinking.

Much Love,


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cold Snap Flap

Dear Children:

First the excuse; then we’ll discuss whether its any good.

It’s been powerful cold lately. The plains are sitting in an infuriating Artic Dome that puzzles and woes. It has sluiced away all my energy and left me panting and adrift: a ruthless chill of the sort I have never experienced. Yesterday it was minus 17F. Accounting for the wind, it was minus 40F.

It wasn’t so cold I couldn’t walk a block and a half to the Hamburger Inn (since 1931) home of the Egg Burger (since 1936) to order the Thunder Burger (grilled onions, jalapenos and ‘shrooms) topped with provolone. It was cold enough to muse that the Thunder Burger may be named for The Thunder Sisters famous in these precincts for correcting male companions with a rolling pin. It wasn’t so cold I couldn’t walk slightly farther to Skellys (since 1998) for fish and chips. Both dishes come with crispy seasoned fries and considerable comfort. It wasn’t so cold I couldn’t meet buddies for coffee and deliver stuff to the church for an upcoming rummage sale. It was, however, sufficiently harsh to thwart a three-block trudge to the gym.

That was yesterday. Today it has warmed to a balmy plus13F and still the only thing that gets me out of the house is food.

Do you see what I’m faced with over here? The question isn’t rhetorical; you can tell by the punctuation. Can you guess?

Me neither.

Taken in the context of history, we may not be experiencing anything unusual. Winter is known for its cold. I’m known for squirrelly tangents and poorly lit emotional hallways. The two should slot-A-tab-B nicely. This feels ominous, though.

Nevertheless, I’m open to the possibilities of tomorrow and a new day just behind the curtain of night.

Much Love,


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

To Toledo And Back In One Day

Dear Children:

People often come up to me and say, “Poppy, when is the best time to weigh myself?” My answer is always the same: “What do you want the scale to tell you?”

Personally, I can’t pass a scale. There’s my new gee-whiz body composition monitor occupying a place of honor in the upstairs bath, the work-a-day digital guy in the downstairs can and the mighty Toledo at the gym. Those are the ones I use most often.

Scales often take a little time to warm up. As such, I recommend stepping on and off a few times. Reckon an average or pick the best result. It can’t hurt.

I weigh myself as often as mental health permits but I have only one official weight for the day. That reading is at the gym after a workout that included heavy perspiration and heavy respiration. It is also after a shower and before deodorant. It’s a harmless conceit because it’s taken the same time every day. Weigh yourself in a disciplined way.

People also come up to me and ask, “Poppy, my scale has been mocking me. Should I replace it?” By all means: If your scale is not telling you what you want to hear, you are duty-bound to replace it.

One of the great fallacies in weight loss is that scales deal in brutal honesty. They most certainly do not. Knowing pounds avoirdupois is of limited utility. Listen to what your scale is saying.

If you hear: One at a time, please; Yep, those are your mother’s thighs; Someone has been hitting the cashews again; That’s apple FRITTER not APPLE fritter or Nobody loves a Fat Ass you own a malevolent scale. It means you harm. Send it to Perdition.

Scales that traffic in non-judgmental, supportive and uplifting truth are the kind you want. They say things like: I know life has been stressful lately; We’ll pass on that large strawberry pineapple milkshake next time; Somebody is mighty proud and Let’s think about alternatives. These scales, strangely enough, are not the spendy ones. They look like all the others and sport the same integers. One does need to scope them out, though. Hold one up to your ear and listen for signs of transcendence or despair. Pick the one that helps. Leave the hurtful ones for the skinny people.

I finished listening to Johnny Cash: American Recordings. It was worth the effort. Today I’m looking forward to Andrea Bocelli: Sacred Arias. There’s this guy at the gym that asked about my iPod and was interested in how it worked. It turns out we share an affection for Rosemary Clooney. It was my pleasure to set his feet upon a right path of MP3.

Much Love,


Monday, February 18, 2008

Fat Chance

Dear Children:

One of the fun things about being a kid is the inverse proportion of fairness we feel as toddlers than we do as tweens. The younger the child the better developed her sense of fairness. The older she becomes, the less likely she is to expect fairness. You’ll soon notice that older adults have no expectation of fairness.

As we mature (rightly or wrongly) we depend more on an assessment of the factual, quantifiable and demonstrable. Consider how disputes are resolved. We go see the judge. The judge has an obligation to follow laws that have some element of fairness. Still, the law may not be fair to one of the parties in favor of a greater and more socially acceptable fairness to the other party. Even if the judge follows the law diligently, the law may not be precisely on point to the particular case. In that event, the judge must use judgment. The whole idea is to produce an outcome. That outcome, called a verdict, is expected to settle the instant dispute and all others like it. It’s much more complicated than I’ve outlined but you get the idea.

Laws are for the purpose of controlling behavior and trials are supposed to refine law by producing a clear winner and a clear loser. In the end, someone is to blame. We like that. Even if we don’t like the outcome, knowing whom to blame is somehow comforting.

The rest of life is not so simple. There are some aspects of life that lend themselves neither to fairness nor to adjudication. Disease is one example. Some people are clearly more talented or better looking than most. Some people will not obey the rules. There are many examples.

Nowhere is there such unfairness as in our genetic makeup. Most of what we are physically, mentally and spiritually come from our parents. Our outlook, our resemblances and our capabilities come directly from the families into which we were born. In no case can we say we deserved to be born a particular way. This is stunningly true when it comes to the question of obesity.

A recent British study has concluded that genetic, birth order and family values factors determine 77% of our predisposition to obesity. Clearly, if I’m fat I can lay the blame squarely at the feet of my parents and family of origin. Lots of the journalists who reported the story agreed. Seventy-seven percent is quite overwhelming and, in a close call, lots of judges would say that it swamps other factors completely.

Don’t be taken in. You see, we have not yet accounted for the remaining 13%. Consider: What if I could guarantee 13% fewer Dodge Ball hits? Do you know that the difference in the first place finisher and the last place finisher in individual sporting events is far less than 13%? A 13% advantage can be overwhelming too. A six-stroke advantage at the end of a 72 hole golf tournament can be less than that.

Play fair. Fight fair. Be fair. While you’re at it, take great care in assigning blame. I’ve learned that obesity is 77% hereditary but we need to think of it like allergies and double-jointedness: as an unevenly distributed biological predisposition. It’s just more of a struggle for some than it is for others.

I’ve been listening to The Commitments recently on the iPod. It’s Soul music sung by a group ostensibly from Barrytown a slum in north Dublin, Ireland in the 1980’s. There are just one or two albums because the group was formed for the purpose of making a movie. That and The Blues Brothers movie soundtrack present an interesting introduction to Soul.

Much Love,


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Shabbat Shalom

Dear Children:

Another day of rest comes just in time. It’s always been a matter of mild interest to me that the version of the Ten Commandments that appears in the 20th chapter of Exodus spends a lot of words on just two of those commandments. The first is the proscription of idols and the second is about the Sabbath Day. In says in part, “Six days shalt ye labour and do all thy work: …”. Six days is about right. Five is too few to really say you worked. And, not to put too fine a point on it, two rest days seems excessive.

This is also the day I report my weight (This is being written on Saturday so as not to do violence to The Sabbath). On Saturday I weighed 190lbs. That’s a loss of 5.5lbs. Last Sunday, you’ll recall, I said this sort of weight loss isn’t sustainable. I still believe that to be true but I’ll take whatever I can get. In this case, I’ve lost 10lbs. in two weeks. Still, I’ve been here before many times. Around 180lbs. there is a wall. I’ll need to lose another ten to face that test.

This is also stats day. Tell me what you make of this, please. You will recall the treadmill is set to run for one hour at about four miles per hour. The machine is responsible to adjust the incline to achieve a target heart rate of 120 beats per minute. That is 77% percent of the maximum for a man my age. The hour is then expanded by a three-minute warm-up and a five-minute cool-down. Sometimes the machine reaches level (0.0 incline) when my heart rate is elevated. The machine asks me to slow down the belt until the heart goes down to 120 bpm. The machine keeps track of the time, the distance covered and calories consumed. Got it? Here’s what happened over the previous six days while on the treadmill for sixty-eight minutes each day:

Monday 3.90 miles; 486.3 calories; 124.69 ca/mile or 7.15 ca/min.
Tuesday 4.45 miles; 533.5 calories; 119.89 ca/mile or 7.85 ca/min.
Wednesday 3.60 miles; 313.0 calories; 86.94 ca/mile or 4.60 ca/min.
Thursday 4.25 miles; 530.8 calories; 124.89 ca/mile or 7.81 ca/min.
Friday 4.25 miles; 436.5 calories; 100.35 ca/mile or 6.42 ca/min.
Saturday 4.46 miles; 420.2 calories; 94.22 ca/mile or 6.18 ca/min.

How do we account for the differences among the days? The treadmill settings did not change. Are we different physically on different days? Do the factors that control mood also control our physicality? How much sleep did you get the night before? Are you aggravated, elated or sad? What’s the weather like? Is there an iPod factor? Did you have any caffeine or protein or carbohydrates for breakfast? What were the proportions?

There are too many variables to parse. The best we can do is take note of the constituent details of our lives and strive to harness the positive ones and constrain the negative ones. That’s big talk. We’ll see.

On the iPod today were selections from a four-CD set of Johnny Cash called American Recordings. Mostly, the theme is manhood. Girls may listen too.

Much Love,


Friday, February 15, 2008

Average What You Say, Mean What You Normal

Dear Children:

There are some powerful arithmetic terms that we use quite casually and to our peril.

Average means the result obtained by adding several quantities together and then dividing this total by the number of quantities. When you get to sixth grade, all will be revealed. In everyday parlance, to be average is to look and act like everybody else.

Normal is used to denote conformity to a standard or range of standards that marks us as one of a desired group. Normal people are those found in the fat part of the bell curve of people that live approximate to us. Normal people in Chad do not look or act like normal people in Norway.

Mean is another arithmetic term used to find a point that is equally distant from two extremes or poles. Snooty people are fond of asking whether you are referring to a distributive or statistical mean. Ignore these people

Nobody is average. Most of us are normal inside tightly defined and typically suspicious criteria.

For our purposes let us not use these terms when referring to people. It’s simply not useful. More often it’s dangerous and hurtful. I’ll tell you why.

I love professional basketball. Professional basketball players conform to a highly desirable group. None of them is normal despite this conformity. To be sure, they are all freakishly able athletes who earn their living playing basketball but, beyond that, there are no things that can be said about an individual professional basketball player that is true of all the others or even a few of the others. Kobe Bryant, like all NBA players has excellent cardiovascular health. His resting heart rate is 35 beats per minute, well to the left on any NBA beats per minute bell curve. Shaquille O’Neal is both really, really tall and really, really heavy. Shaquille O’Neal bears no resemblance whatever to Yao Ming. These three are used for illustrative purposes because no NBA General Manager says to his Director of Player Personnel, “Get me an average player, please”.

Just so, you should be suspicious of attempts to categorize yourself. The one thing you have in common is one grandfather. That is a good thing for me but it doesn’t offer much currency generally. No bank in the world will lend money on such thin collateral. It sure couldn’t get you elected President of the republic.

You are all smart in different ways. You are all good looking in different ways. Each of you will make a way in the world that is different.

More to the point please do not make life decisions based on “average” or “normal” criteria. Our job is to discover the thing for which God has designed us. There is a delightful turn of phrase in the 10th chapter of Job where the bewildered servant nevertheless acknowledges: “Thou didst clothe me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. Thou hast granted me life and steadfast love; and thy care has preserved my spirit.”

I hope that applies to fitness as well. Here the averages and the norms and popular wisdom serve only as a hint to what comes next. Each of us was uniquely knit. The extent to which we accept that fact proceeds to informs what’s best for us individually.

On the iPod today was the musical comedy Chicago and the soundtrack from O Brother Where Art Thou. Both have astonishing music and catchy lyrics. The stories they tell are quite different. The former is cynical and coarse and advises we "Go to hell in a fast car" while the latter is all about the "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and the hope of heaven.

Much Love,


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What's In Your Pocket; Change?

Dear Kids:

Last night I ate everything. I do not exaggerate. After 10:00 pm, I consumed two pork chops, about a half-pound of previously frozen corn with blue cheese dressing, four double-handfuls of wavy potato chips and one toasted Breadsmith Russian Rye Dinner Roll with butter.

That after-ten thing is significant. That’s when real bonus eating takes place. What’s up with that?

There are a couple things that seem true. When I’m getting enough sleep, it doesn’t happen. And, when my life is otherwise regular and predictable, it doesn’t happen.

Simple, you say. Why not cultivate regular habits and get enough sleep? These truths didn’t occur to me a moment ago. I’ve known about them since the Second Nixon Administration. The former appears to be contrary to my character and the latter appears to be contrary to my temperament.

The question is: How grievously may I hate the symptoms when the cause is so dear? If we are wedded to our partiality, we needn’t quibble over the practical upshot.

Am I missing something? I'm saying we are obliged to accept those things that necessarily follow from what is entrenched. Could we change it anyway? If we could make a change, is it worth the struggle?

It’s something to think about.

While you’re at it, think about what that has to do with Aretha Franklin. I think about her a lot. She's got it all including a beautiful and expressive voice, enviable phrasing and passionate Gospel sensibilities. I’ve loved every minute listening to her recordings. I even saw her up-close once galumphing down Halsted Street. Her love songs were on the ipod today.

Just don’t take her love song lyrics too seriously. The lyrics come in two categories:

I love you and here’s why, plus

There’s nothing wrong with me but if you change just one little thing all will be well.

The first is okay.

The second category is trouble. As described above, as individuals we don’t change easily. Relationships are exponentially more difficult. It's not just an issue of one party’s culpability, it’s that the other party is blameless.

Don’t believe it. In every relationship, there are at least two of you. In fact, two is the irreducible number that people come in. Pair is normative. So, not only is it unlikely someone else will change but, when a relationship goes south, there’s plenty of blame to share. First look to the contribution you make to any enterprise. After that, it’s okay to scrutinize the other.

Much Love,


Monday, February 11, 2008

Glossary And Shinery

Dear Ryan:

You are last because you are the youngest. Of course, that would be a pain for a lesser personage than you. You are the strong, silent type -- the one in charge -- the potentate who has merely to lift a pinky to command attention and respect. I always picture you as the calm, steady, unmoved gibraltarian in the hubbub. It is a quality that will serve you well in your life as the boss.

So, just for you, is some useful information to understand what’s going on in the gym.


You’d think people who pump all that iron could manage the weight of a whole term in their mouths. ‘Tain’t so. These are the first muscles one trains as part of a strengthening program. LATISSIMUS DORSI is the large, fan-shaped back muscle that extends from your middle back, along the spine to the hip and up to the armpit, BICEPS are the muscles on the front of the arm between the elbow and shoulder (you figure out what Tris are), PECTORAL muscles are the thick, fan-shaped muscle group situated at the upper and forepart of the chest, ABDOMINALS are the tummy muscles that so fascinate Hip Hop artists and their groupies, GLUTEUS muscles are the largest (it figures) muscles in your body...your butt muscles, DELTOIDS are shoulder muscles that come in three parts or “heads”; front, medial (side) and rear, QUADRICEPS are the four muscles on the front of the thigh between the knee and the hip joint, Trapezius muscles run from neck to shoulders and down back along the spine and (my personal favorite) the HAMSTRING, is the muscle on the back of the legs from glutes to knees.

I believe you are old enough to know what guns and wheels are.

Hardbodies are those who have trained for an extended period with some success. These folks are also ripped, buff, cut, striated, shredded, jacked and muscleheaded.

Backfat refers to the fat on your upper back in your lat area.

An FSQ is an abbreviation for front squat. Don’t ask.

Burn is the uncomfortable sensation, produced by the buildup of lactic acid and other metabolites, felt in the muscle being worked. Some actress popularized the phrase “feel the burn”. Don’t bother.

Calorie is short for kilocalorie or the amount of heat required to raise 1 kg of water 1º Centigrade. It is a unit of energy.

Clean and Jerk: A lift calling for the weight to be raised from floor to overhead in two movements.

Clean and Snatch: A lift where the weight is raised from floor to overhead at arms' length in one motion.

Test question: What is a Clean?

A Muscle Spasm is a sudden, involuntary contraction of a muscle or muscle group that hurts like the very devil.

Congestive Heart Failure is the inability of the heart muscle to pump the blood at a life-sustaining rate -- just north of dead.

On the iPod today was a musical called Little Shop of Horrors. The music is terrific. The story is about appeasement of an oppressor and how difficult it is to reverse oppression once we empower it.

Much Love,


Sunday, February 10, 2008


Dear Cynthia:

This is a day of rest. As such, I’m going to “give it a rest” today. Things have gotten a little sententious of late anyway. Plus, here you are the Human Spark Plug -- the kid with all the energy and dazzle. Sorry.

So lets get historical to see what the raw numbers are and determine if they have anything to do with anything.

The pros tell us that fitness, including weight loss, is a function of both diet and exercise working in tandem. Diet comes in two forms, less food and less fattening food. Similarly, there are two basic kinds of exercise, cardiovascular and strength training. We ought to be able to tell if, applied assiduously, we can see them work.

Two things are for sure: 1.) If I’m slacking off exercise, I’m eating like a pig and 2.) Exercise both suppresses appetite and speeds up metabolism.

Strength training serves to reshape the body. In my case, I had pretty good legs but poor upper-body strength. For all my sins and miss-steps of the past year, both upper-body contour and strength have improved. Slacking off for short periods doesn’t seem to have much effect on strength.

Cardiovascular exercise, as its name describes, is all about heart, lungs and circulation.

There’s a big caveat in all this: Very few could exercise himself or herself slim. The most vigorous exercise only burns 700 or so kilocalories per hour. More sensibly, it takes about an hour on the treadmill for every Big Mac. One pound of fat is the equivalent of 4,200 kilocalories. One half pound lost will require +/- four hours at that pace.

That said, here’s what happened over the last year:

2/12/07 to 3/9/07 193.0lbs to 186.0lbs
4/16/07 to 4/21/07 191.5lbs to 186.5lbs
8/15/07 to 11/21/07 196.0lbs to179.5lbs
12/3/07 to 12/18/07 182.0lbs to 180.0lbs
12/31/07 to 1/11/08 194.5lbs to 188.5lbs
1/30/08/ 200lbs
2/3/08 Blog begins
2/4/08 to 2/10/08 200lbs to 195.5lbs

I think this proves that there is a direct link between exercise and weight loss/gain even though the calories burned through exercise are not equivalent. We can surmise that a calorie consumed in the absence of exercise is more likely to find it’s way to the waist.

Still, how about the 4.5lbs lost last week? While I’m puffed up with pride, it’s not necessarily a sustainable pace. It may not be healthy to maintain such a pace. And, I think the principle of LIFO (last in first out) applies. The fat we piled on most recently is the fat that is consumed soonest. The most stubborn fat has been around the longest and is in the FUPA (you figure in out): belly fat. It is both genetic and intractable. Obviously, it’s a problem better saved for later.

This morning opened with a diner breakfast of two eggs any style, lightly buttered wheat toast, crisp golden hash browns and a steaming cup of our special blend coffee with sweet cream – so wrong on so many levels. Lunch will consist of phlogiston and political promises. Just to be sure, dinner will be a covered dish: Rice Cake Surprise.

Tomorrow look for words I learned at the gym.

Much Love,


Saturday, February 9, 2008

Waist Not, Want Not

Dear Reid:

I just saw the movie of you riding your bike without the training wheels. We’re talking way cool. That’s just the way you are: always the source of action and scoot. When you grow up, you will either be the world’s tallest Leprechaun or the world’s shortest Fomorian. Either way, you are certain to have an impact.

I need your advice on something. Do you think there’s such a thing as magic pants?

Here’s some background:

When I weigh 195 pounds or so, like now, my pants need a thirty-eight-inch waist. When I weigh 180 pounds, the waist needs to be thirty-seven inches. At the Target, you can’t buy thirty-seven-inch pants. That’s the way it is. The choices are 38 or 36. Custom sizes are available at any haberdashers but the price isn’t justifiable for someone certain of losing weight. Get it?

The last time I weighed 180 pounds just before Thanksgiving, I puzzled over this problem. The solution, of course, was to replace the whole wardrobe of 38-inchers with 36-inchers. After all, it would only be a matter of days – a week at the most – ‘til the pants fit perfectly. Do you see what’s happening? I was about to imbue these Target trousers with magical powers. I didn’t express it this way, of course. The effect was the same. These pants had totemic prowess sufficient to ward off belly fat.

It didn’t work, as you know. The pants and their false promise were thwarted. It was a matter of deep disappointment. It put me in a funk. Don’t get any wild ideas. I’m much too sophisticated to have imagined that there is such a thing as magic. Yet, look what happened. The net effect was to engender a downward spiral.

We do this sort of thing all the time. I hinted at this to Cori last Monday. We should be suspicious of all substitutes for achievement and appeals to dark powers. What I should have done is press on with a program that was working and manage a setback within the parameters of my own powers (whatever they are).

Today I listened to Rosemary Clooney; Songs From The Girl Singer. It was the best.

Tomorrow is a day of rest.

Much Love,


Friday, February 8, 2008

Resolution Failure Revealed

Dear Wesley:

Maybe I told Benjamin a wrong thing. I’m beginning to form an attachment to the ear staples. My appetite has lessoned considerably, the headache is gone and I exaggerated about the smoking thing. Stay tuned. An open mind has been achieved.

I mention this to you particularly because of all my grandchildren, your mind is the most uncluttered; uncluttered by prejudice and secret agendas. In fact, I have never met anyone with such a pure inner life. I wish I could peer inside just to see how it is done. Alas, no one can be inside the mind of another. As such this disquisition may be completely wrong. Forget that. Humor me. Try it on for a while to see if there is any truth to what is suggested.

We don’t fully appreciate the “why” of our actions. To some that might be recognition of motive; to others it might mean a declaration of intent; a different group might express it as a response to anxiety. Lets just say that each of us does things for good and sufficient reasons yet don’t particularly need to express or even know the reasons.

That, I think, is the explanation for New Year’s Resolution failure. We’re not in touch with what possessed us to make that resolution or have an inkling of the practical implication of its fulfillment. If we did know, we probably wouldn’t make much of it at all. We would just do it and not wait for the New Year.

When you hear something like, “I plan to start my diet on Monday”, that poor soul is in for a doomed diet.

So now you know why you’re being burdened with this ponderous inquiry. I want to know why. Why did I get fat in the first place? Assuming there was good reason for it, why make a change? Does my life hold such import that prolonging it satisfies some greater good? Who benefits one way or the other? Why am I blathering on so insistently? Is any of this worth the aggravation?

You tell me.

On the iPod today was Jerry Lee Lewis The Sun Recordings -- all sorts of wonderful country tunes and even some Tin Pan Alley. What a joy.

Tomorrow, look for a post on the value of 36-inch pants.

Much Love,


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Blubber Technology

Dear Benjamin:

You are my sojourner. By the time you are 18 months old, you shall have already lived in three states. That’s mighty impressive. I can’t wait for acts two and three.

Did I tell you I got one of those cool body composition monitors for Christmas? A body composition monitor is a snooty name for a scale that weighs one’s body as well as passing a low-level electrical signal up through the body that measures the percentage of body fat, the percentage of body water, total weight of bones and calculates the calories required to maintain one’s present weight.

Who needs that? Nobody. If one can see additional holes on one’s belt to the right of the wear-mark one is making progress in fat reduction. Right? Still, I asked Santa for the monitor because I want to develop my inner geek and cultivate a reputation as someone to be reckoned techno-literate. After all, these monitors need to be programmed.

The monitor now knows that I am 5’7.5” tall and I’m a 63-years-old male that is not an athlete but gets a moderate amount of exercise.

Yesterday morning four hours after my breakfast of twigs and berries… It said I weigh 197.6lbs, my percentage of body fat is 29.2, my body water is 49.6%, my bones weigh 7lbs. and it takes 3,305 kilocalories to run a physique like that.

Okay. How much does my fat weigh? My fat weighs 57.5992lbs. (197.6 X .292 = 57.5992). Fitness experts figure that I’m at the top of the “over fat” category. Eight more tenths of a percentage point and I’m officially by-God obese.* To get into the healthy category, my body fat percentage should be between 15 and 25. Twenty percent would be best. My fat needs to weigh a lot less.

But wait. As I proceed with strength training, I’ll add additional lean weight called “muscle mass” so I can’t tell you how much my fat should weigh when I reach the 20% goal.

The wild card in all this is the Total Body Water Percentage. You’ll recall that my number is 49.6%. This number fluctuates wildly during the day. Nonetheless, this number is at the bottom of the normal scale. Men should have a number between 50 and 65 according to my monitor’s manual. I don’t know anything about what my hydration should be and what my low number means. I do know that as this number rises, the fat percentage should lower. Huh?

One more thing …

On Super Tuesday I marched into an acupuncture storefront at 11:22 am and told Rhonda to put staples in my ears. I had a coupon for $10 off. The coupon was included with their newspaper ad that promised that the staples would not only cause me to eat less but would cure my smoking habit, relieve stress and eliminate headaches.

The staples were installed seconds later. After that, my appetite was ravenous, I had a four-hour headache, I was stressed out, I’m $60 poorer and I thought about taking up cigarettes again after 26 years.

Maybe it’ll work out but, for now, there is nothing but shame.

Much Love,


* According to the manual, “obese” in German is “fettleibig”.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Are Senior Citizens Selfish?

Dear Halle:

Someone like you who is a born puzzle solver, will get a kick out of this one: A group of researchers in the Netherlands, after considerable study and no end of tax payer’s guilders, came to the obvious conclusion that fat people are less of a burden on the Dutch medical system than fit people.

It seems that fat people die sooner than fit people. And, because older and fitter people consume the largest fraction of their medical services in the last few years of their lives, fine fettle runs up the cost of universal health care in the Low Countries.

Here’s the puzzle: Do we encourage obesity to save money on health care or pony up the dough to protect both the fit and the fat? What about cigarette smokers? They die sooner than non-smokers. Why not encourage smoking as a cost-cutting measure? What about buying everyone a motorcycle and ban helmet use? What do you say? Lets get rid of seat belts.

I know which you would choose. You would rather spend money to encourage the fat to get old and fit. Me too. Still, it’s an interesting question in an abstract, public policy sort of way.

It’s the same question each of us faces every day. What’s better? There must be some direct correlation of time we spend on good things for our bodies as against time we spend on rather more pleasurable activities like dessert? Could the same be true of our minds? Is there a direct correlation of time spent at our studies and time in front of the TV?

At bottom, each of us gets a term of years. We can never know how many years we get until it’s too late. That’s part of the fun.

So, how would you rather spend your life? Before you answer, though, ask yourself if what you choose has public policy implications.

I lost half a pound today. The iPod blessed me with three Mark Twain short stories. Tomorrow look for a post about a cute new scale and my recent piercing.



Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fat Tuesday

Dear Tony,

Every time I think of you, that smile lights up the dimmest shelf in my heart. Doubtless that heart-breaking countenance of yours will take you places for which we mere upright-walkers are obliged to struggle.

Just so you know; while the obverse of that coin may not be as obvious to you, it is painfully obvious for the rest of us. Please. I don’t want you to change; far from it. But know that while you are skipping along a flower-strewn path lined with mortals anxious to do your bidding, your humble relatives may only sigh and marvel how God’s love is so fervently and excessively applied.

Which leads me to the one and lonely thing I have learned about a pilgrimage to fitness: We may get there but we may not remain. Perseverance is the only virtue to be admired and the only pearl to be prized. See? If we actually get to the point where we can claim to be fit, the only thing to do is persevere in the fitness. And, if that perseverance in fitness leads to longer life, we get to persevere in that fitness ever longer.

My present workout routine is appallingly simple. As anyone will tell you, my idea of perseverance was always an apology for a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I haven’t wanted things to be simple. For me, order was achieved by defeating complexity.

Wrong. Lately, I’ve come to believe that a circumstance of any kind is inherently orderly. Our job is to discover how that circumstance came to be. Circumstances cry out to be accepted and reconciled within a larger context and set of circumstances.

That’s why perseverance is so important generally and important specifically to fitness. Fitness may be the ultimate metaphor for reconciliation. We are obliged to be the best version of what we are – simple, complete and reconciled to the order that is around us; keeping us.

Anyhow, I’m doing an hour of cardiovascular exercise; usually the treadmill set at 3mph and the incline tuned to maintain a heart rate of 120bpm. That’s just shy of 80% of the maximum for my age.

Then there’s a series of Nautilus machines as follows: leg press 165lbs.; multi-triceps 60lbs.; biceps 70lbs.; rowing back 140lbs.; bench press 60lbs.; incline press 70lbs. and pullover 100lbs. The forgoing is done two times with 20 repetitions each. Then I do 30 repetitions times two of both the lower back and the abdominal machines at 110lbs.

That routine gets me about halfway through the Gospel discography of Elvis Presley.

Much Love,


Monday, February 4, 2008

Twenty-Four Hour Bug

Dear Cori:

Today is the first day of my public quest for fitness. As you can see from yesterday's post, I have had a few periods of sensible eating and vigorous exercise that have resulted in weight loss and a start toward cardiovascular health. Those periods were always followed by phases of weight gain and deteriorating health. It is my hope that if, this time, I share my goals with you, the other grandchildren and the rest of the world, I might summon the strength to make a life-time lifestyle change.

Of course, I want to be slimmer and better looking. More importantly I want to watch you grow up some more. I figure that through a combination of God's grace and my own effort I can see you started on a family and children of your own. Right now, I'm shooting for 30 or so more years -- time for selfish enjoyment of all things Corneille.

The past 24 hours tell a story. Last night I went to a super bowl XLII party. There could not be a more perfect challenge at the buffet. Every nasty food group was represented. You know those smallish over-sweet meatballs? There was gloppy spinach dip in a bread bowl. There were buttery crackers and phony cheese galore. The chicken wing food group was there along with the baked beans with fatback group. And, just for the sake of confusion, there were healthful spears of asparagus wrapped in a ham-like material.

To be fair to our host, there were also hunks of broccoli and cauliflower as well as offerings of celery and radish. Of course, next to these paragons of rectitude was a cauldron of ranch dressing.

And then there was the beer -- German lager; unfiltered wheat; dark stout; premium domestics; imported Mexican and Chinese -- just to name a few; calling and mocking me from their chilly caves and niches.

What to do?

I had a few naked vegetables, one of the asparagus thingies and one generous scoop of those glorious meatballs. I cannot describe how unsatisfying it was. Injury was added upon being persuaded by some smugness of mind not to have any beer. I stared way too long at the frosty mugs. Pornography comes in all forms.

At home there was a small portion of left-over red cabbage and white brat along with a helping of microwaved frozen corn seasoned with lo-cal french dressing. I went to bed in a snit.

This morning saw a new day and a bowl of grape nuts with some fruit out of a formerly frozen bag. There was a cup of coffee laced with a dollop of sugar substitute.

Thus fortified, the gym awaited. More about that tomorrow. The workout routine was satisfied and made palatable by an ipod load of Luciano Pavarotti "World's Best Loved Arias".

I just now weighed myself. I lost weight. The cost was very high.

With Much Love,


Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Journey Begins Tomorrow

A year ago I weighed 207 lbs. Today I weigh 207 lbs. Along the way, I have lost 25lbs, 20 lbs and 18 lbs. Thats 58 lbs. I'm 63 years old and stand 5' 7" tall.

I have exercised vigorously for weeks at a time, eaten small meals for weeks at a time, eaten vegetarian for weeks at a time and lost weight.

I have eaten like a pig for weeks at a time and slacked off exercise for weeks at a time. For those periods, I have gained weight.

The thing is: I don't know why I'm enthusiastic about fitness, health and weight loss one week and not another. There must be some mechanism at work.

Anyway, thats the purpose of this blog; to keep up a diary of how I feels each day, assess what it was in my day that suggests a sense of determination, ease or a willingness to slack off.

So, starting tomorrow look for a post late in the day about how I did the previous 24 hours.

These posts are a research tool for me. Still, if they help someone else, so much the better. And, if anyone has a suggestion for me, I want to hear it. Tangentially, there will be a written record for those of you who care to follow my progress